Qualifying is always crucial for a drivers’ and teams’ hopes at a race weekend but there’s no session more important than the one that sets the grid in Monte Carlo.

A top 12 start is always the goal but around the Monaco streets, the Qualifying result all but determines what prizes a driver will be fighting for in the races.

While conventional run plans guarantee you are on a level playing field with rivals, attacking the session from a different angle can pay dividends.

Luke Browning’s Qualifying ended with a hefty tap of the wall on the exit of the swimming pool chicane, but the Hitech Pulse-Eight driver was pushing on and had looked set for Pole Position.

Running in Group A, the Briton was one of 15 drivers to take to the track in the first segment of Qualifying. With 16 minutes on the clock, the light at the end of the pitlane went green to signal the start of the session, and 12 drivers immediately left the pitboxes to get their running underway.

Hitech decided to hold Browning until the field entered the final sector on their outlaps with around 14:20 left on clock. As the majority of the pack jostled for track position nose-to-tail, Browning had two sectors-worth of clean air ahead of him around a track that emphasises peak downforce and rewards perfection.

“We had a very smart release technique, we basically released out of the pitlane after their first warm-up, so we were at the end of the pack, which gave me clean air and the best opportunity to do a clean flying lap,” Browning said after the session.

With clear air and one preparation lap fewer than his rivals Browning still delivered a top time in Qualifying
With clear air and one preparation lap fewer than his rivals, Browning still delivered a top time in Qualifying

“We neglected warm-up a little bit but luckily, with no Red Flags, it turned out to be to our advantage.”

Despite having one preparation lap fewer than those that opted to go out earlier, Browning delivered and was on Provisional Pole ahead of the final laps.

Though the Williams Driver Academy talent ultimately ended up third on the grid after his contact with the wall, it put him in a great position in the Feature to earn valuable points that left him just four points from the top of the Drivers’ Championship leaving the Principality.

READ MORE: What We Learned: The key talking points from our weekend in Monte Carlo

“When I say, I put it all on the line, I think I did that,” Browning continued post-session. “I think every push lap up until that point we were P1. The car felt phenomenal. I felt really confident in the car, we were pushing.

“I think the one thing I wanted to come from Monaco was knowing that I didn't leave anything on the table. Today I didn't. Unfortunately, it was just a little bit too much kerb. But I really think this would have been the lap.”

While it didn’t pan out as planned, neither driver nor team could be faulted for not giving it their best effort across the board.

But Hitech are not the only team to view Qualifying as the area in which to make a difference so far in 2024.

Browning earned another podium and is second in the Drivers Championship four points from the top
Browning earned another podium and is second in the Drivers' Championship, four points from the top

Trident were in fine form on home turf back in Imola, locking out the top three positions on the Feature Race grid with an emphatic performance around the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari.

They achieved this by running off plan compared to their rivals, opting to hold all three drivers in the pitlane a little longer than the rest. It gave their trio clean air and the best of the track conditions late on, while others had already delivered their best flying laps.

Team Manager Giacomo Ricci admitted afterwards that their plan had been weeks in the making, as the Italian outfit analysed in depth how to attack the Qualifying session to extract any form of advantage.

READ MORE: Christian Mansell’s Monte Carlo weekend in his words

“We've been working extremely hard on this, the preparation,” he said after the session at Imola. “Like Monza, it's like a home race for us and so we invested a lot of time and energy in the driver preparation and looking after all the details.”

The risk that comes with running off plan compared to the majority of the field is the possibility of a disruption caused by yellow or Red Flag, forcing a driver to back off and ultimately ruining their lap.

With the gaps between drivers and teams closer than ever in F3 though, identifying and utilising any small advantage could be the difference maker in the end.

The 2024 Drivers’ Championship is shaping up to be a closely fought contest, evidenced by teams getting creative with their Qualifying plans before any racing has started.

Might we see more of this at upcoming races?